Cultural Connections in the Park
The Abbe Museum continued its partnership with Acadia National Park and Dawnland, LLC in 2016 to offer the popular Cultural Connections in the Park program series. Through advanced survey techniques, we know that visitors have a richer experience when they have the opportunity to meet and connect with Wabanaki people. During those educational moments, they engage in the learning more deeply and develop lasting memories that inform their future interactions with diverse backgrounds and cultures.
This year’s Cultural Connections in the Park program series featured a total of 12 programs that covered a wide range of cultural demonstrations and performances and attracted more than 1,800 attendees to park locations including the Jordan Pond House, Sieur de Monts, and Cadillac Mountain. The following list offers a summary of each program activity.
The Burnurwurbskek Singers kicked off the Cultural Connections in the Park season by hosting their powwow drum on the summit of Cadillac Mountain. This Penobscot group from Indian Island has been performing traditional Wabanaki songs for audiences across Maine and other states for many years. This performance on top of Wapuwoc, or the “white mountain of the first light,” is a cultural demonstration that is always a huge hit.
Gabriel Frey, Passamaquoddy, comes from a long line of fancy and utility basketmakers. He uses his family’s traditional knowledge and style to create beautifully woven, sturdily built utility baskets that can be used for a variety of purposes. Gabriel demonstrated the labor-intensive process of preparing ash and offered firsthand how his beautiful and functional art is created.
John Dennis of the Eskasoni Mi’kmaw Nation is truly a keeper of tradition. A musician and storyteller, John entranced visitors with songs from his hand drum and stories and teachings he has learned throughout his life. John loves talking to the public and answering questions about Mi’kmaq culture and traditions. People of all ages were drawn to John’s demonstration and many stayed for the entire duration of the day.
Passamaquoddy basketmaker Gerald “Butch” Jacobs is not only a master of the fine skills required to weave brown ash baskets but a master of preparing this labor-intensive material. Pounding the raw log with the blunt side of an ax, Butch demonstrated how to separate the growth rings of the tree and how to split and scrape them until they become the smooth, shiny, beautiful strips of ash used to create baskets. This program was a wonderful opportunity to catch a glimpse of the basketweaving process, from preparing the materials to the finished product.
Sarah Sockbeson is one of several young basketmakers who take Wabanaki traditions to a new level with their contemporary styles. A member of the Penobscot Indian Nation, Sarah is known for her vivid color combinations and beautiful landscape paintings. An experienced presenter, she demonstrated the various steps within her artistic process.
Eldon Hanning, a member of the Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians, is well known for his utility baskets and is regarded as a master of ash preparation. He demonstrated the traditional Micmac method of pounding and splitting ash, which differs greatly from the techniques of the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy ash-pounders. Visitors were drawn to the sound of ash pounding at the Jordan Pond House and asked Eldon many questions about the traditions of baskets and how he picks the materials in the forests. A board member of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, Eldon has taught hundreds of members of each of the Wabanaki tribes how to weave potato baskets—a basket which the Wabanaki are well known for.
Fred Tomah, from the Maliseet community in Houlton, states that he has been making baskets for as long as he can remember. He was taught by his ancestors, who learned it from their ancestors. Today, Fred makes some of the most unique baskets and embeds several stories into the specific design motifs. During his demonstration at Sieur de Monts, Fred weaved one of his well-known designs and told stories about Wabanaki and Shaker relationships to basketmaking. His keen sense of the history of basketmaking made it a memorable time for all who were in attendance.
Jennifer Neptune is regarded as one of the most talented Penobscot beadworkers and basketmakers in her community. As Director of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, she is also seen as an important ambassador for Wabanaki art. During her demonstration at the Sieur de Monts Nature Center Patio, she shared her processes for sweetgrass collecting, the weaving of miniature baskets, and the uniqueness of Penobscot beadwork. Senator Angus King stopped by and remarked that he was glad to see Wabanaki people doing programming in Acadia National Park.
Chris Sockalexis is one of the very few Wabanaki archaeologists in the state of Maine. He works for the Penobscot Nation as a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and has a passion for teaching people about Wabanaki archaeology and technologies. During his demonstration, Chris set his table with various spearheads, points, fishing weights, and other Wabanaki tools he has found during excavations. Chris also set up a station where he demonstrated flint-knapping, the process of creating arrow points the way his ancestors had done for thousands of generations. Several visitors commented that they came to Acadia that day specifically to meet Chris and watch the process of flint-knapping.
For the very first time, the Abbe Museum and Acadia National Park co-hosted a Wabanaki led celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day at our downtown location. John Dennis, Mi’kmaq, kicked off the day with hand drumming and songs on the front patio. He shared traditional and contemporary songs from his community to demonstrate the continued cultural traditions among Mi’kmaq peoples. Later that same day, John also hosted a storytelling hour for people of all ages. He shared traditional stories of the Wabanaki and guests commented how much they appreciated hearing from an Indigenous person on this historic day.
We were fortunate this year to be able to host two Cultural Connections programs for visitors during the shoulder season at our downtown location.
Frances Soctomah, a citizen of the Passamaquoddy Nation and granddaughter to famed basketmaker Molly Neptune Parker, hosted a fancy basket demonstration on November 18th. Frances is one of many young burgeoning artists that the Abbe likes to highlight in order to support the future of Maine Indian basketry. Attendees enjoyed Frances’s story of how she began weaving as a young girl with her grandmother and were able to see and pick up the various tools used to create one-of-a-kind pieces.
This year’s program series ended with a contemporary art demonstration by Ann Pollard Ranco, Penobscot. Ann shared her seaglass jewelry and sculptures with participants and invited everyone to try their hand at creating something to take home with them. During Ann’s demonstration, she spoke of the importance of the ocean as a source of food and inspiration for her people. In her work, she advocates for cleaning the waterways and reusing refuse to create art whenever possible.
This program series was made possible through the generous support of Dawnland, LLC and Acadia National Park.